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An Age of INFORMED Decision Making

1.
After three months of dating Bernard, he sent me a tentative text message. Although I have spent the last three years bemoaning the emotional ambivalence of people who send text messages to initiate serious conversations, Bernard’s text was completely clear; it left no room for misunderstanding.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about us. Our journey. Can we talk tonight?

Sitting in Starbucks trying to get some work done, I looked knowingly at Bernard’s text. I am 35 years old, I thought. A calm, yet ominous reality washed over me as I gathered the remaining papers I was grading and reached for my purse. I knew. Once I called Bernard, I would be having the same conversation with him as the one I’d had with Daniel almost eight years earlier.

2.

Meredith is one of the most vibrant, energetic older women I have ever met. She works full time in a job she adores, never seriously considering what most women her age dream about almost daily: RETIREMENT. Recurring days with no where to go and nothing to do. Meredith loathes the thought of this “reward” given to Americans who spend their youth productively contributing to society.

30 years ago when Meredith was my age, she was married with three children. It was not a happy marriage; she was a wife and mother because all of her friends were wives and mothers. She was an ordinary girlchild with an average education who did what was expected of her and married the first young man who she seriously dated. He had a college education and thus the earning potential to take care of Meredith and the inevitable army of kids she would birth.

“I never thought about having kids. About what it would mean for me. About how much time and dedication it would take,” Meredith explained to me. “I wasn’t surprised by the difficulty and the level of sacrifice motherhood involved,” Meredith was quick to add. “I just never thought about it or considered whether or not I wanted to take on the responsibility. It’s just what I assumed I’d eventually do because…well, everybody assumed it was what all the girls would eventually do.”

3.
Nothing about Bernard’s hesitant “let’s be friends” monologue surprised me. Somewhere around our third date, it became clear to me that Bernard was ready for fatherhood. And since he was a man of stellar character, fatherhood would come after he had fallen in love with the right woman and married her. Somewhere in between our third date and this current conversation, it had become clear to Bernard not only was I not ready for motherhood, I was rather disinterested in it.

“I knew it was not smart to keep seeing you when we wanted two different things, but I really liked you and…I don’t know…I guess I thought this gap in what we saw for our futures would just magically disappear.”

There was no need to explain. Bernard was 39 years old and didn’t want to be a 50 year old waking up in the middle of the night to change a diaper. It made no sense for him to become more emotionally attached to a woman whose vision of her lifestyle now and ten years in the future just made no sense when a baby was inserted in the picture.
“I respect your decision, which is why I never openly asked you about it when you made comments that suggested you didn’t want to have children.” As Bernard awkwardly tried to find a way to end this unpleasant conversation, I was acutely aware of how much this conversation differed from the one I’d had with Daniel some years ago.

Unlike Daniel, Bernard was, at the very core, my ideal mate. He was intellectually, spiritually and socially the person who I am working relentlessly to become. If I can have this conversation with him and still not question whether or not I REALLY don’t want kids, well…could it be that this really is a decision that is solid. I was 28 when I had to explain to Daniel that I didn’t really see myself as a mother. Like many people suggested to me, I wondered if perhaps it was just him. I didn’t love him enough. I just didn’t see him as someone who would play an equal role in parenting. But here I am, at a point in my life where I crave a partner and a life spent tending to someone other than myself, and my reaction to the notion of pregnancy and caring for an infant remains the same: a clear and certain NO.

When I finally save Bernard from his ill attempts to terminate our phone conversation, I sit on my sofa feeling two emotions. Sadness at the loss of what my relationship with Bernard could have been. And RELIEF. I literally exhale, thankful that I have been given an opportunity to truly have my value tested. When a man with whom I was falling in love admitted that he could not see me as an option, it never occurred to me to think about “fixing” the problem that disqualified me from the race to be his mate.

4.
“This generation is a lot more focused on knowledge,” Meredith points out. “You guys seem to be more aware that big life decisions should be made after gathering information. You actually do make INFORMED decisions.” Meredith maintains that I am not the only woman she knows who does not want to have children. Her daughter is childless by choice. A niece even younger than myself has pushed back her attempts to “get pregnant” every year since she and her husband started vaguely planning to have a family. As Meredith lists the young women she knows who are making informed decisions, I suddenly realize why I wanted to talk to her shortly after my conversation with Bernard.

I have been given a privilege that women from Meredith’s generation were denied. By simply coming into my womanhood at the end of the 20th century, I was causally handed what I have never quite understood until now was a right that my mother’s generation was dismissively denied and what my contemporaries and I routinely take for granted.

I am not only repeatedly put into situations where I must make ENORMOUS adult decisions based on my own values, but the world EXPECTS me to do so. To choose the life that is the best fit for me. I dictate my professional life and my personal one as well.

I have spent over a decade deciding if a particular man was worth my trust and love. Or even another date. If his personality and dreams and values were properly matched to mine. I have had the added privilege of choosing to prioritize the aforementioned traits over the characteristics on which women are often encouraged to place the highest value: is he gainfully employed and does he treat me kind of nice? When I said yes or no to these relationships for any number of reasons, there was a world that was able to accommodate me regardless of the outcome of my decision. I had the privilege of agonizing over whether I had made the right choice when I said yes or no. I was fortunate enough to even worry about regret slowly seeping into my bed during late nights when I slept without a Bernard or a Daniel. To question if I had made the unfortunate mistake of letting a good man go. Should I have just married (insert the name of any good man here) and had his baby?

I made these informed decisions and dealt with their consequences, holding no one responsible for their repercussions but the woman who had made them.

I have won what Meredith’s generation never even realized they were not offered: a womanhood that was synonymous with adulthood. For some reason, the womanhood Meredith describes when she was my age sounds much like the lives of my teenaged students. Lives where they have illusions of choice, but at the end of the day, they follow the dictates placed on them by a host of “others.” You don’t really choose to do your homework; if you don’t do the homework, your parents take away your cell phone. You don’t really choose to mutter quietly under your breath about how stupid the homework assignment is; if you actually said outloud – for EVERYBODY to hear – that the assignment is asinine…well, this teacher lady makes you pay for the comment.

It is not just childless-by-choice women who have benefitted from the expectation that we fair creatures should consciously choose to mother or not to mother. It is also women who choose to delay childbirth until THEY feel they are emotionally and financially ready to handle the commitment. It is also married women who matter of factly say to their husbands: “We’re stopping after just this one.” These women have essentially gone through the same data-gathering process that I have and have made an informed decision. One based on not simply emotion, but also the realities of their lives. They have brought life into this world on their own terms.

After my recent conversations with Bernard and Meredith, I find myself deeply appreciative to the universe for this radical expectation that I and I alone should dictate the parameters of my life and stand behind those dictates without flinching.

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